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COLUMN: We are our brother’s keeper

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By Steve Gettinger

Today’s scripture passage comes from Luke 17: 1-6:
“He said to his disciples, it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you  seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
In the gospel reading for today, Jesus is speaking to the crowds that are following him as he travels to Jerusalem. In verses 1 to 4, Jesus specifically addresses his followers. He wants to teach them and us that, “We are our brother’s keeper.”
Jesus said, it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come but woe to those through whom they come (verse 1).
Now we need to understand what a stumbling block is. A stumbling block is anything that we do or say, that would:
• cause another person to sin,
• cause damage to another person’s faith,
• lead another away from following Jesus.
Examples of stumbling blocks would be things like false teaching, encouraging others in their sin, or encouraging others to join you in your sin.
Lest anyone think that doing those things is a minor thing listen again to what Jesus said about it: “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble” (verse 2).
Jesus said that it is better for a person to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around their neck, than to cause one of these “little ones” to sin. That reference to “little ones” means those young in the Christian faith, not just little children. This means anyone who is a new Christian, regardless of their age. Basically Jesus is saying that it would be better if a person met an untimely physical death, than to cause an immature Christian to stumble and give up the faith.
As our brother’s keeper, we should encourage each other to resist sin. We should stand alongside our brother and sister in Christ, as we fight against the sinful onslaughts of the devil. Let us walk together down the road faith, watching over each other and defending each other.
As our brother’s keeper we must extend forgiveness to those who sin against us.  Verses 3-4 say: “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
When I think about brothers sinning against each other and forgiving, I think about the Old Testament story of Joseph. Joseph forgave his brother even though they sold him into slavery. He could have held a bitter grudge against his brothers. He could have sought revenge when his brothers came to him years later in need of food. He could have had them killed, but instead he chose to forgive.
When I think about forgiveness, I think about Jesus hanging on the cross and people standing below him hurling insults and mocking him. What did Jesus say to those sinners? He said, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34).
As the followers of Jesus, let us do as our Lord did and forgive those who sin against us, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. Forgive them as you wish to be forgiven, over and over again. Forgive them as your heavenly Father forgives you over and over again.
Jesus tells us “… if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But, if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:12-15).
If you are holding unforgiveness in your heart against someone, I urge you to forgive them, because harboring unforgiveness does not hurt that person. It only hurts you and makes you bitter.  
I would like to share with you an illustrative story called, “The porcupines and the cold winter.”
It was a very cold winter and many of the animals were dying because of the cold. The porcupines, realizing the situation, decided to huddle together in an effort to stay warm. The only problem was that when they got close enough to stay warm they would accidentally quill each other. This would cause some of them to move away one from each other so they would not get wounded. This resulted in some of them freezing to death.  So they had to make a choice: either accept the quills of their companions or die alone. Wisely, they decided to go back to being together. They learned to live with the little wounds that were caused by the close relationship with their companions and the warmth of their companionship keep them alive.
Moral of the story: The best relationship is not one which brings “perfect” people together perfect. The best relationship is one in which people learn to live with the imperfections of others while enjoying the warmth that good friendships bring.
I often refer to a church congregation as a Christian family. As a Christian family we are brothers and sisters in Christ. There are going to be times that we will poke each other with our quills (our sinfulness). We should try not to poke each other and we should apologize when we do. Sometimes we quill each other and do not even know we have done it. Let us be kind and compassionate to one another forgiving each other just as Jesus forgave us.